Vietnam's oath to silver economy inspired by Japan

June 26, 2024 | 03:28 pm PT
Doan Van Binh Member of Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board
Visiting nursing homes in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka and or Hokkaido, I was most impressed by the bathing assistance machines used to lift patients from bed into their bathtubs.

At these Japanese facilities, after patients are cleaned by automatic spray devices and the help of caregivers, a mechanical dryer is used.

Once finished, a robot lifts them back into their beds.

In addition, hundreds of other devices such as wheelchairs, dehumidifier robots, odor-eliminating robots, vacuum robots, specialized bathtubs, and many others, are also available.

A whole industry specialized in producing equipment for the elderly has become very well-developed.

In Japan, nursing homes are planned and built as frequently as kindergartens. Ironically enough, we often call them "kindergartens for the elderly."

Every morning, couples bring their children to school and their parents to the nursing home.

Here, the elderly receive health checkups, enjoy recreational activities, exercise and chat with other seniors. There are several levels of elderly care. The seriously ill and frail come here until they pass away. Some stay full-time, while others being only part-timers, arriving in the morning and returning home in the evening.

But we still need a more elderly-friendly country and economy.

Elderly people in Japan who are still healthy continue to work to keep their minds and bodies active, earn extra income, and minimize dependence on their children. Most jobs like taxi driving, consulting, traffic guiding, cleaning, gardening, reception, carpentry, supermarket staff, childcare and caring for other seniors are taken on by the elderly themselves.

For example, Saita, born in 1947, still diligently works at a labor dispatch company in Nagoya. He won't "retire" until he's 80. This is common in the country, which is famous for its "silver economy," serving wealthy and elderly clients.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the silver economy is a segment of the economy related to the needs of the elderly, encompassing all activities including the production, consumption and sale of products and services for people aged 50 and above.

Thus, those born before 1974 belong to the silver economy. According to the United Nations Population Fund, by 2020, there were 703 million people aged 65 and above globally, accounting for 9.1% of the total population. By 2050, there will be 2.1 billion people aged 60 and above. The global population aged 50 and above is even larger.

Elderly people have distinct needs and consumption patterns. They are a group with substantial savings and high spending capacity. The elderly are also gradually changing their consumption mindset from "saving" to "spending" for happiness, satisfaction and comfort in life.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further heightened awareness of the impermanence of life. This trend creates enormous demand and significant potential for the market producing and providing services for the elderly. The silver-haired are now the focus of tourism and leisure in Malaysia, Thailand, through projects like the "Second Home" or "Golden Visa" for foreign retirees.

In 2020, the global market for products and services for the elderly was estimated to be worth $15 trillion. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to see the fastest growth due to the rapidly aging populations in countries like Japan, China, and South Korea.

In Europe, the silver economy accounts for about 25% of GDP. In countries like Italy and Germany, the proportion of the elderly population is particularly high.

In Thailand, there are apartment complexes designed specifically for the elderly, featuring friendly, spacious, and minimalist public areas without barriers. Corridors and apartment doors are wide to allow easy access for ambulances. Apartments are at least 25 m2, with single-level floors and no thresholds between spaces. Wooden floors are both cozy and safe to prevent injuries in case of falls. Low-set outlets and switches ensure accessibility. Wheelchairs can access all areas, including beds, dining tables, reading desks, kitchens, bathrooms and tubs. "Nurse call" buttons are installed for emergencies.

Japan also enacted its Elderly Welfare Law in 1963 to provide comprehensive solutions for their financial and healthcare needs. Under the regulations, Japanese people must contribute to the Elderly Care Insurance Fund starting at age 40. When elderly people enter nursing homes, the fund covers most of the thousands of U.S. dollars in monthly costs. Service costs vary by provinces, with users paying only 10% of the total monthly expenses. Those with incomes above the specified level pay more, potentially 20-30%. If the elderly have no money and no children, the state will cover all costs.

Recently, Japan introduced cars for the elderly with small bodies, low chassis, wide doors and simple controls. Train doors are level with platforms to assist the elderly and the disabled, and priority parking, wheelchair-accessible public buildings, including toilets, and employment support centers for the elderly, are other vivid examples of how Japan meticulously prepares and operates an elderly-friendly society.

The scope of the silver economy includes not only healthcare, but also extends to many other areas such as medical care, real estate (housing, nursing homes, hotels, resorts), education and training, recreation, transportation, food, nutrition, security, financial services (insurance, savings, consulting, asset management), labor, employment and technology (AI, robots). This presents both opportunities and challenges for each country in planning and developing a suitable silver economy.

Vietnam's population has entered the aging phase since 2011, with those aged 65 and above accounting for 7% of the total population. It is forecasted that by 2050, the elderly will make up 20.4%, or 22.3 million people, meaning one in five people will be elderly.

Vietnam has enacted policies and laws for the elderly, primarily from a social perspective. Comprehensive preparation for the silver economy needs to be initiated by learning from international experiences, being visionary towards the future, and improving policies and laws of the silver economy.

It is essential to determine the role of the silver economy within the national economy, in order to develop specific action strategies and plans to activate and quantify the scale and spread of the silver economy. This will require establishing design standards and cost estimates for products and services for the elderly, the encouragement of investment in technology and innovation in the sector, investing in education, create suitable employment opportunities for the elderly, and implementing other new support solutions for the elderly, including both financial and non-financial assistance.

Thorough preparation towards meeting the needs of the elderly is the way to harness the potential of the silver economy while addressing social welfare issues.

*Doan Van Binh is vice chairman of the Vietnam Real Estate Association and member of the Tourism Advisory Board.

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